A pony who has traded for the eyes of the Gods of Death will lose this power upon relinquishing ownership of the Note. However, the traded half of their life will not be restored.
Colgate’s reaction was instantaneous. “Twilight, you are not Kira.”
“Slow down, Colgate,” L said almost as quickly, putting a hoof on the mare’s shoulder. She put down her cup and swiveled to face Twilight. “Twilight, is this a confession?”
“I... I don’t know. Maybe.” The purple unicorn shifted in place, alternately staring at the ground and throwing guilty glances at her friends. “I don’t think that I’m Kira. I mean... I’m not aware that I’m Kira. But over the past few days I’ve been going over the facts of the case, and... it all adds up. The greatest detective in the world thinks that I’m Kira. Rarity died believing I was Kira. Piece by piece, every part of this investigation has come back to me. I have to be Kira. It’s the only possible answer.”
“No!” Colgate leaped to her hooves, nearly knocking her chair over, and ran over to Twilight. “No. Twilight, don’t let her do this to you,” she panted. “She’s been trying to turn everypony against you from day one. I’ve had to fight her night and day to stop her from destroying your life because of this stupid obsession. You’re not Kira. You can’t be. Don’t give in to her now.” Colgate’s lip trembled. “Don’t do this to me,” she whispered.
While the blue unicorn was talking, Spike slowly climbed down from Derpy’s back. The pegasus barely seemed to notice as he walked away from her, her eyes even more unfocused than usual. The little dragon approached Twilight and put a hand on her left foreleg. “Twilight,” he said quietly, conscious that he was starting to sound like a child again. “You can’t be Kira. We proved it. We put camera bugs in your bedroom, remember?”
“Spike. Colgate.” Twilight smiled and pulled the pair into a warm embrace. “Thank you for standing up for me,” she said. “It means a lot to me. I really mean that. But right now, hard as it may be, I’m going to need both of you to put those feelings aside.” Slowly she released the two, and, one by one, looked them in the eyes. “Look at the facts. Sharp Star, who murdered one of my classmates, was Kira’s first victim. I was one of the only ponies who knew Ray Painter’s name before he was killed. And now, one of my best friends tried to get close to me just hours before being arrested for a connection to the second Kira. If we’re going to catch Kira, we can’t just ignore things like this, even if it hurts.”
Colgate bit her lip, trying to blink back tears. “Twilight...”
“Think of it like this,” the lavender mare continued. “I’m still me. I’m still the same Twilight you’ve always known. But we already know that Kira can get inside of ponies’ heads. What if something’s been twisting me from the inside, turning me into something I’m not?” A tremor started to return to Twilight’s voice. “If... if Rarity was right, if I am somehow responsible for all these deaths, a-all this torment, then I want to know. I can’t carry on with this kind of weight hanging over me, and you shouldn’t have to either.”
From across the room, L’s perpetually calm voice washed over the trio. “So, Twilight Sparkle, what do you propose that we do?”
Twilight took a deep breath. She pulled herself away from her friends and faced L. “I want to be put under observation,” she said. “Not just cameras this time. Make sure there’s no possible way I could do something without you knowing. Every measure you’ve taken with Fluttershy, do the same to me.”
“Plus something for her horn,” Rainbow Dash added. She’d remained unusually quiet throughout this exchange, her expression set in stony grimness.
“Rainbow!” Spike gasped.
“You heard what Twilight said,” Dash barked back. “She knows this psychological stuff better than anypony. I trust her more than anything. So if she says this has to happen, then this has to happen.”
Twilight put a hoof to Spike’s lips before he could argue further. “L,” she continued. “You wanted us to trust each other. This is the only way that that can happen. You know it as well as I do. And if it’s to catch Kira, then I’m willing to give up everything, even my freedom, to earn that trust. What do you say?”
L closed her eyes. She sat perfectly still for almost a full minute, not visibly moving a muscle even to breathe. Everyone else in the room unconsciously copied her, not daring to make even the smallest of movements. When the detective opened her eyes, the chamber echoed with her single word.
There was another pause, the tension replaced by confusion. “No?” Twilight echoed.
“Miss Sparkle, do you take me for a fool?” L leaned forward, her eyes narrowing. “This charade is pointless. Even if I believed for one second that you could be Kira without having any awareness of it, this scheme could not be easier to thwart. We all know that Kira can schedule deaths well in advance. Coming here of your own choosing is practically an admission that you’ve made such preparations.”
“So keep me here for longer!” Twilight shouted. “You only watched me for a short while last time. Keep me here for a month, or a year, or however long it takes. Even if ponies keep dying out there, sooner or later something will happen that I couldn’t have seen coming.”
“Aren’t we forgetting something?” Spike interjected. “We already tried this! We watched Twilight for a few days and nothing happened. What good’s doing it again going to do?”
“He’s right,” Colgate quickly agreed. She leaned close to Twilight, who seemed to be having trouble breathing. “You don’t know what she’s done to Fluttershy,” she said in a hushed tone, sneaking glances towards L. “Don’t put yourself through that over nothing.”
To the surprise of all, the silence that followed was broken not by anyone in the middle of the room, but by the quiet pegasus near the door. “Not in the forest.”
Everyone turned to stare. “Derpy!” Spike gasped.
“It didn’t work,” the wall-eyed mare continued. She was clearly struggling to stay calm, though her trembling voice gave her true feelings away. “We couldn’t see her in the forest. Or in the dark that good. There were lots of places she could have done bad things. I didn’t say anything, cuz...” Derpy’s breath caught several times in her throat before she was able to continue. “Cuz she’s a good pony.”
Colgate’s expression hardened. At the number of eyes on her, Derpy lowered her head and shuffled uncomfortably in place. Noticing this, Twilight bit her lip and took half a step towards her, which only caused the pegasus to quickly back up against the wall. “Derpy...”
“I’m sorry!” The mailmare squeaked. She tried to turn away but only ended up spinning in a circle, unable to avoid the gazes of the others in the room. “I have to go to work,” she said, leaping for the lever for the trapdoor.
“Derpy, we’re not mad,” Twilight said quickly, but it was too late. With the quickness of a foal fleeing from an expected punishment, the grey pegasus had vanished out the iron doors.
“That interjection aside, the point is moot,” L continued after a moment had passed. “The fact that it is you, Twilight, who suggested this makes any attempt at incarceration meaningless. If you are Kira, even somehow subconsciously, then you would not have allowed yourself to come here without some kind of plan in place. As that plan would no doubt primarily involve your imprisonment here, I look forward to watching it fall to pieces as the principal element is removed. That will be all.” The detective made a dismissive gesture with her hoof and turned back to her monitor. “Colgate, take her home.”
“Oh, come on!” Rainbow Dash yelled, taking to the air. “You’ve been saying from the start that Twilight is Kira. Now that she’s giving you exactly what you wanted, you’re just gonna tell her to go away?”
“It’s over, Dash.” With a relieved smile, Colgate put a hoof on Twilight’s shoulder and gently nudged her towards the door. “This is for the best. Let’s go home.”
“I don’t think so.” To the blue unicorn’s irritation, Rainbow Dash flew down to Twilight’s other side, bumping Spike out of the way, and started to push her in the other direction. “Twilight’s staying here. It’s for her own good!”
“Rainbow Dash!” Glaring back, Colgate raised her other front leg and started to push more roughly. Still stunned, Twilight started to feel like a piece of taffy being squeezed. “You know there’s no solid evidence that Twilight’s Kira! You should be trying to help your friend, not lock her up!”
“I am trying to help her!” Dash insisted. She flapped her wings and redoubled her efforts, sending Colgate and Twilight skidding a few inches backwards. “You think I like this? I don’t. But the only way we’re ever going to settle this once and for all is if Twilight stays here!”
“No!” Colgate braced herself against the floor and started to make some headway back towards the exit. The unicorn in the middle was now finding it difficult to breathe. “This will solve nothing! She goes!”
To the side, Spike sat down and clutched at his head. “I don’t know what to think any more,” he moaned. “Make it stop!”
In the middle of it all, Twilight lowered her head. “Enough!” she screamed, pushing her friends off of her. “L, do you know what it’s like to have something inside your head?” The seated detective didn’t respond to this, but it made Colgate and Rainbow Dash pause. Trembling with fear and desperation, Twilight continued. “I don’t know what’s real any more. So many impossible things have happened in the past week alone that I have no idea how I’m supposed to feel. It’s like ever since Kira showed up I’ve been living in a dream, just getting dragged along for the ride. We all know Kira can control ponies subconsciously. What if that’s what been happening to me all along?” She looked at L with her most pleading expression. “I don’t know. If it was a simple yes or no then maybe I could deal with it, but I don’t know. Please, L. I’m not asking for you, I’m asking for me. I can’t keep living with this uncertainty, always wondering, never knowing if I’m responsible for so much chaos. As long as that fear is in the back of my mind, to me I’m as good as locked up anyway.” Sensing Colgate about to speak, she turned and raised a hoof to stop her. “No. No more arguing. I need this. I can’t live with myself otherwise.”
There was another long, potent pause. Then, as casually as if she were reaching for her cup, L pressed a button on the microphone in front of her. “Bon Bon?” she said.
“Yes, Harpy?” Bon Bon’s voice came back, speaking over the sound of chopping vegetables.
“Prepare a cell for Twilight Sparkle.”
A look from Twilight silenced Colgate’s cry of protest. Bon Bon tried to keep herself calm, but was unable to prevent the sound of surprise from creeping into her response. “Of course, dear. Shall I bring the restraints?”
“Those will not be necessary. Twilight will be staying with us voluntarily.” With another flick, L turned off the microphone and looked back towards Twilight. “You are aware, of course, that if you are placed into my custody, there is no way of knowing how long it will be before you are released. If, that is, you are ever released at all.”
Twilight nodded. “That’s the way it has to be. No matter what happens, I trust you to only let me out once you’re absolutely sure of my innocence... or my guilt.”
“Then we have nothing more to discuss.” The detective made another dismissive gesture. “Rainbow Dash, your presence is no longer required. You may leave.”
The pegasus faced L, still grim. “I’m staying.”
L sighed. “I do not wish to make the situation any more difficult-”
“I’m staying,” Rainbow Dash repeated, emphatically putting her hoof down. “I don’t care about any conflict of investment or whatever you called it. I’m not going to keep sitting around while you’ve got two of my friends locked up. One way or another, I leave when they do.” She nodded proudly, then hesitated. “So, uh, that means I’m here where I can see you, all right? You can trust me. You don’t have to search my house or anything.”
Though her face was already mostly expressionless, L still managed to produce a particularly blank look for the pegasus. “...Given your insistence that your close friend may have something to hide, Rainbow Dash, that’s perhaps the worst possible timing for such a reassurance that I’ve ever heard. Is there a reason you felt you had to bring that up?”
“Uh...” Dash glanced at Twilight. “We, um, I thought you might have seen me as a suspect. You know, trust nopony, and all that.”
L rolled her eyes. “Rainbow Dash, if Kira were a fat, hairy spider sitting in the middle of a web, you would be the moth wondering why her wings are no longer propelling her forwards. The only reason I haven’t already called a team down on your little cloud-house is that I doubt Kira would trust a pony who is so consistently careless with her words.”
“Hey!” Dash flared out her wings and pointed angrily. “You take that back! I am not a moth!”
“Let it go, Rainbow,” Twilight said quietly. “We’ve had enough fighting for today.”
The multi-hued pegasus gave her friend a pained look, laced with a little more distrust than before. Twilight resumed staring at the ground. “In any case,” L continued, “if you are determined to stay, you may as well make yourself useful. Escort Miss Sparkle to her cell. Bon Bon will be waiting for you. You know where they are, correct?”
“Uh, yeah.” Dash squinted and waved her hoof in the general direction of the cells. “Main corridor, then right, yeah?”
“Yes.” L nodded before turning away again. “Incidentally, it is now seven-thirty.”
Colgate winced. She turned towards Twilight, finding her voice again. “I have to go,” she said quietly. “There’s an appointment that I just can’t miss. But I’m not giving up on you, okay? I’ll keep you updated while you’re inside.”
“Thanks. Thanks for everything.” The two unicorns embraced each other again, and it was several long seconds before either could bring themselves to let go. “Don’t worry. Everything’s going to be okay.”
“I’m the one who should be telling you that,” Colgate chuckled, wiping her eyes.
Twilight tried to smile a little as well, but it came out painfully forced. “Come here, Spike,” she said, pulling her assistant into a hug as well. The little dragon barely reacted, apparently still in a world of his own. “I’ll miss you. Look after everypony while I’m gone, okay?”
“‘Kay,” Spike mumbled.
With that, Twilight straightened up. With an audible gulp, she turned towards the corridor opposite the main entrance. She and Rainbow Dash nodded to each other, then made their way to the doorway beyond. Without another word, they vanished into the dimmer innards of the facility.
Silence descended again. Spike sat on the edge of the abacus’ stand and pulled his legs against his chest, staring at the floor. Slowly, Colgate approached L. She kept her movements short and precise, and spoke carefully and quietly. “I honestly thought you were going to make her walk out of here,” she said. “I don’t know if I’m disappointed or relieved. What made you change your mind?”
“Who says I changed my mind?” The detective reached for her cup and took a long sip of the sugary slush within before continuing. “I only wanted to see how strongly she was willing to fight for this. As it turns out, desperately.”
Colgate flinched. She gritted her teeth, allowing some of her anger to creep into her voice. “I would have thought you’d know. You’re the one who pushed her to this.” She lowered her head. “You took a lie and you spread it so thick that an innocent mare’s started to believe it herself. Well, I hope you’re happy.”
L tutted. “I thought you had more faith in your friends than that. Do you really believe Twilight Sparkle would be so easily influenced? No, she came here with a purpose.” As Colgate stared in shock, the green pony took another long sip of her drink and swallowed loudly. “The magician has asked us to draw a card. She’s shown she has nothing up her sleeve and nothing in her hat, and now she’s locked herself in a deadly trap and thrown away the key. It’s a daring display, certainly, but what does she hope to gain from it? The setup utterly defeats the payoff. Am I meant to be surprised when the deaths continue in her absence? All the same, if she believes her plan is going well, she will be less tempted to try something more subtle later on.”
Colgate’s rear left hoof twitched. She moved it and found herself backing away. “Twilight is innocent,” she said. “What’s about to happen is going to be the closest thing to absolute proof that you’re ever going to get. If even that isn’t enough to convince you, then...” She turned away. “Then maybe there’s no hope for any of us,” she whispered.
“Colgate, one moment.” The blue mare didn’t stop, continuing slowly towards the main doors. Regardless, L continued. “I know what you may think of me. However, I want you to understand that I do sympathize with your situation. Having your friends taken from you is never an easy thing to undergo. To that end, I’d like to make you an offer.” Colgate slowed, but didn’t stop. “I do not know how long this period of observation will last. Depending on the outcome it may be a matter of days, but could just as easily stretch into months or even years. Your presence will not be required for the entirety of that time. If at any point you feel you need to spend time away from this facility, I will not object.” The detective’s voice softened slightly. “You’ve worked hard, Colgate. You deserve some time off.”
The policemare paused. She’d reached the iron doors. As though her leg were covered in heavy weights, she reached up and pulled the lever for the trapdoor, then started through the exit to the world above. Just before leaving, she looked back, her face now as placid and unreadable as L’s own. Just loud enough to be audible, she spoke. “I’ll see you this afternoon.”
Once the doors had closed and Colgate’s hoofsteps had faded out of earshot, L began to move again. She put down her cup and hopped out of her chair, landing nimbly on all four hooves. She glanced at Spike, who paid her no attention. Breaking into a light trot, she followed the path Twilight and Rainbow Dash had taken, quickly catching up to the pair. The unicorn was taking slow, tortured steps, savoring her last moments of freedom, and her friend was making no attempt to hurry her along. “One moment, ladies,” L called, and they looked back in surprise. The detective stopped in front of Twilight, touching the very tips of their horns together. Twilight blushed. “One small precaution,” L continued, her horn starting to glow. “Brace yourself.”
Twilight looked up nervously. “For wha-”
Pain. A searing, screeching hole bore itself through Twilight’s mind, as if the front of her skull was being torn apart and reassembled inside-out. Flashes of darkness and light danced behind her eyes, and a great grinding drowned out what would have been her own screams if she was able to move her mouth. In desperation she tried to twist herself away, but her whole body seemed unresponsive. Then, after what felt like the longest six seconds of her life, the sensation stopped. The world snapped back into focus as L moved her head away. Twilight swayed; she couldn’t detect anything immediately wrong with her, but the memory of the pain was lingering long after the event had passed. Shaking her head, she looked down and around in confusion, noticing Rainbow Dash gaping at her forehead. She glanced upwards. Then, as realization dawned, she screamed.
“Just in case,” L said calmly as Twilight desperately rubbed the flat patch where seconds ago her horn had been. “I’ve come to understand that you’re a unicorn of considerable power. At your full strength, I doubt that even Canterlot’s strongest jail could hold you. To ensure there is no possibility of trickery, your powers will be sealed until such a time as I choose to release you. If, of course, such a time ever comes.” She waved a hoof at the bug-eyed pegasus nearby. “Miss Dash, you may continue escorting Miss Sparkle to her cell.”
“Uh... right. On it.” Rainbow Dash reached out a hoof tentatively towards Twilight, seemingly unable to tear her eyes away from her friend’s missing horn. “You, um... you okay, Twilight?” She tried to force out a laugh. “This seems kind of familiar, huh?”
The lavender mare froze. “Wait.” L’s use of the word sealed had sparked something in Twilight’s mind. She took a deep breath to calm herself, then turned towards the detective. “I recognize that spell,” she said, her voice shaking. “That’s Sun Eater’s Devouring Seal. It’s forbidden magic. Very forbidden. Strictly speaking nopony’s supposed to know about it, let alone how to use it. And you... you cast it on me?” A deeply rooted anger flashed through her. Having part of her body stolen was something she’d had the displeasure of experiencing before, albeit briefly, and the loss had been more painful than she cared to admit. Twilight considered herself a rational mare, but having grown up among unicorns, some childish part of her would always believe that without her horn she was no better than a cripple. “I could report this to the Princesses,” she breathed. “You have no idea how much trouble you’d be in.”
L shrugged. “You could do that,” she said, her face and voice not shifting in the slightest. “But I had hoped that you would not. The Devouring Seal could be a great weapon in the wrong hooves, it’s true, but I have always endeavoured to use it for purely noble purposes. As you’ve already witnessed, it can be a useful tool in my line of work.”
Twilight started to snap back at this, then paused. “You mean...” Her jaw dropped. “That’s how you do your horn disappearing trick? You cast that on yourself?” Involuntarily, a tremor ran through her. Though brief, she would describe the feeling of having the seal cast as no less than agony. “How can you stand it?”
L looked away. “It... gets easier with practice.” She shrugged again, but did not meet Twilight’s gaze. “That will be all. Miss Dash, if you would.”
“Oh, uh, right.” As L turned away, Rainbow Dash put a hoof on Twilight’s shoulder and gently tugged her in the other direction. Before carrying on, however, the pegasus gave a last look over her shoulder. “Hey, L?” she called nervously. “That illegal spell thing doesn’t work on wings, does it?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” the detective yelled back.
The rest of the journey was a short one. Twilight glanced upwards every few seconds, while Rainbow Dash looked everywhere but at her friend as she led the way. A minute later they came across Bon Bon, now without her cloak, holding open a thickly padded door. Twilight walked inside without hesitation, looking around at the white surfaces and wall-mounted cameras that would be her surroundings for the foreseeable future. She turned back to her friend, who still wasn’t looking at her. “Rainbow-”
“This isn’t goodbye,” Rainbow Dash said sharply. “Stop acting like it is.” She turned away and spread her wings, lifting herself up to flutter down the corridor. “I’ll see you later, Twilight.”
Before the unicorn could respond, the heavy door slammed shut. There was a pulse of white magic that echoed around the room, leaving Twilight momentarily disoriented, and a loud clunk as several large and probably enchanted bolts slid into place.
Sighing, Twilight looked around the room. Aside from an admittedly plush cot and a small basin in the corner, there was nothing in her prison for her to occupy herself with. With a resigned shrug, she made her way to her bed and lay down, staring at the blank wall for a while before closing her eyes. “See you later,” she mumbled.
It’s all up to you now.
Floating invisibly above the unicorn, a black and white being looked around and scratched his head. “Never in my life have I been more confused than I am right now.”
Just outside the Everfree Forest, near the trail of fallen trees where the golem had made its escape, twenty armored guards stood in rough formation. They weren't still, but jostled and chatted with each other, acting more like a group of friends than a military squad. They were mostly stallions, with a few mares here and there, and seemed to be an even mix of unicorns, pegasi and earth ponies. Colgate tried her best to look authoritative as she stared them down, though she was easily dwarfed by even the smallest of them. Despite the urgency of the situation, however, she couldn't seem to concentrate on them. Twilight, how could you...
She shook her head. No. Focus on the here and now. Focus on what’s at stake. With that in mind, Colgate tried to look at the rambunctious herd in front of her in a new light. These are the ponies who will save Sunny Days. I need to trust them... because I won’t be going with them.
Beside her, Captain Straw Bolt glanced in her direction, then at the cloaked zebra on his other side. Both nodded. With an impatient sigh, he lifted a hoof. "Attention," he said. His voice wasn't loud, but the ponies in the squad reacted as if it had been a cannon shot, instantly snapping to sharp attention. The enormous pegasus grunted in approval before stepping forward and beginning to speak. "You all know why you're here," he said, "and you all know what's at stake. So I won't waste your time by reminding you of what we're about to do, because I already trust each and every one of you to do the best job that you can." He paused for a moment to cast a stern look over the squad. Not a muscle moved. "Romana, from the Ponyville Police, will brief us."
Colgate bristled. When she’d responded to the captain’s letter, she'd specifically asked that he not call her by her real name while he was in Ponyville. As one the assembled guards turned their heads to look at her, and the young policemare suddenly felt very small. Just focus on Sunny Days. This is for her. With that thought, breathing became a little easier. Colgate straightened up and began the lines she'd prepared. "Within the past week, there have been two attempted foalnappings by golems in and around Ponyville," she began. “The second was successful. In broad daylight, a golem tunneled underneath this very park and carried away Sunny Days, a filly who may be connected to the ongoing Kira investigation.”
This raised a few eyebrows, but Colgate ignored them. “I wish I could tell you more about what we’re dealing with, but all information we have about golems is restricted to those two sightings. We’ve observed that they have a rudimentary intelligence, and will not attack a pony if they don’t have to. Their clay skin is tough, but not invulnerable, and they’re surrounded by a powerful enchantment that protects them from most unicorn magic. If the legends are correct, their weak spots should be the gemstones and runes that give them life, both located on their heads.” Colgate had to pause for a second before continuing. “Based on the same legends, the golems will have a creator who is directing them, most likely a pony. At this point we can only speculate about their character and intentions. Be on guard, and remember that the safe return of Sunny Days is your first priority.”
“Thank you, Romana,” Straw Bolt growled as Colgate stepped back. “A picture of the filly in question has been provided. Learn it well.” From the end of the row, Lieutenant Quicksilver produced a clipping Colgate had taken from the local newspaper and began to pass it around. “Now, some of you may have worked in the Everfree before. You know that it’s not a place to be taken lightly, even during the day. As crystal devices do not function within the forest’s boundaries, if separated we will be using flares for communication. Do not waste them. Also accompanying us will be Zecora of the Everfree,” the captain added, gesturing to his left. “Her knowledge of the local flora and fauna has come highly recommended, and she has assured me that she will be able to keep up with us.”
Zecora gave a polite bow. “I am honored to work with Equestria’s best,” she said in her usual melodic tone. “I will do all I can to assist in your quest. At night these clay creatures traverse round my home; I know some of their paths, I can point where they roam. But the forest is angry, and if you wish to stay, watch your step closely or you’ll soon lose your way.”
Straw Bolt blinked slowly. “Right.” He turned back to his squad. “Prepare yourselves. We move out immediately.” As several of the guards began to load equipment onto their backs, the captain turned back to Colgate. “Thank you for your assistance.”
“It’s nothing. Just my duty. Our duty.” Feeling the first hint of familiarity in a long while, Colgate smiled. “I just wish I could be going with you... but I guess I’d only slow you down.” She looked the captain up and down. Though they worked in very different departments, she’d heard of Straw Bolt mostly by his reputation. After seeing for the first time in the Night Court she’d dismissed him as a stubborn brute, but meeting him in his element, it was easier to see why he seemed to inspire such respect in others. If anypony can save her, Colgate told herself, it’s him. “Celestia’s heart be with you, Straw Bolt.”
The guard’s eyes narrowed. “And also with you,” he responded before turning away. “You’ll need it more than I do,” she heard him mutter. He then raised a hoof towards the other guards, who were now still again and waiting expectantly. “Move out!” Twirling dramatically, the enormous pegasus reared up and charged into the forest, Zecora hot on his trail. With a noise like a passing train, twenty ponies followed.
Colgate stood still for a while, listening to the thundering of hooves fade into the distance. Once the sound had drifted away completely, she started to amble back in the direction of the base. As soon as she’d started, however, her hooves started to become heavy. Her pace slowed almost to a crawl, and her breathing became labored. She came to a halt and held her breath, clamping her eyes shut. Come on, Colgate. Keep it together. Ponies need you.
Keep it together.
Laboriously, she forced herself to put one hoof in front of another. Then she did it again. And again. It became easier as she walked, focusing only on her own breathing and the ground in front of her, willing herself not to think about the place that she was going back to. Something slipped under her hoof and she stopped again, examining what she’d stepped on.
It was a leaf. Red from autumn and still slick with morning dew, it nestled inconspicuously among the grasses of the field. Colgate stared at it blankly. She tried to determine how to feel about this, but her mind didn’t seem to be working right. I didn’t realize it was so late in the year, was all she could come up with.
Stifling a sigh, the blue pony looked around. Most of the trees around her were now covered in red, though the ones across the border of the Everfree were showing up in more inconsistent patches. The sun was shining, though a slight breeze was keeping the temperature down. It’s a beautiful day, Colgate realized. There probably won’t be many more of these for a while. And... She gulped. And the others won’t expect me back for a couple more hours.
Halfway between the hidden base and the golem’s trail, Colgate lay down on the grass and stared at the sky.
On her third day in the darkness, Sunny Days began to dream.
At first, there had been only the terror, and the pain. It had become impossible to orient herself as the golem’s arm swung back and forth, constantly flipping and twisting her as it ran. After the monster had hit the river the world had gone dark, but the constant motion had continued. Even when the clay fingers released her and she landed on rough stone, it was a long time before she realized she'd come to a halt; a long time of screaming, and headaches, and the rushing of wind still roaring in her ears.
Then had come the thirst, and the hunger. Already sore from missing breakfast, the rumbling of her empty stomach helped Sunny Days clear her mind. The darkness was absolute. Her head was resting against a stone wall, but she couldn’t feel anything else in any direction. Although she was no longer bound, she couldn’t seem to move her forelegs properly, and any attempt to lift herself up resulted in a sharp ache through her torso. And so, unable to see or move, feeling only her body stiffen and her hunger growing, Sunny Days began to dream.
She dreamed about food at first. She dreamed of feasts of clover and hay, mountains of candies and cupcakes, an ocean of fruit juice or icy cold water. Then she dreamed about her family, hearing their laughter and their cries, and thought of all the things she wished she could say to her sister. After that, the dreams became simpler. She dreamed of light, of the warmth of her own bed, of a great horned beast watching over her. And all the while, drifting between sleep and wakefulness, she waited.
One day, Sunny Days had a very strange dream. She dreamed that she heard a grinding, like the scrape of stone against stone, and the wall in front of her slid open. A light shone through, a light so powerful and blinding that it burned even as she closed her eyes. A pair of shadows fell over her, one short, one tall, and they watched her in silence for a moment before speaking.
"What's wrong with her legs?"
This wasn’t what the voices in her dreams usually sounded like. Usually they were soft and kind, whispering sweet nothings to her as she slept. This one was loud and nasal, the voice of a young colt with a hint of a Canterlot accent. Sunny instantly disliked it. She frowned and shifted against the cold ground, hoping that this dream would go away soon.
"I think they're dislocated," the second shape replied. This voice was male as well but sounded much older, cracked and ancient compared to the first pony's chipper tone. "Number six should have been more careful during shipping."
“Shame. She’s cute.” There was a pause. A nagging feeling crept up on Sunny that something was wrong, but in her delirious state she couldn’t put her hoof on what. “Oh well. Let’s get this over with.”
There was a sound like hoofsteps, and suddenly something hard pressed against Sunny’s throat, causing her to gasp. The edge of a rough mane brushed against her nose, and she felt hot breath skim the hairs at the base of her neck. The pressure of what she realized was a horn increased, and it became difficult to breathe. Slowly, the thought emerged that this strange dream colt was trying to kill her, that he was killing her, and that she needed to do something or she would die. Weakly, she tried to raise one of her front legs again, but only flopped back down to the ground, defeated.
A minute passed, then another. The young unicorn kept his horn pressed against the filly’s neck, his breath alternately quickening, then softening. Finally he withdrew, leaving Sunny unharmed and her skin unbroken. “Well,” he said, sounding pleased with himself. “That proves it. She’s immortal.”
“No such thing,” the older pony said immediately. “That gift belongs to the Goddesses alone.”
“No? Then try to kill her.”
There was another long pause. Sunny’s feeling of wrongness continued. The pain on her neck was lingering, something that wasn’t supposed to happen in dreams. But... if I’m not dreaming, then...
At last, the older stallion spoke. “I don’t want to.”
“That’s what I mean. She can’t die. Something won’t let it happen. I was pushing as hard as I could, but I just couldn’t get myself to do it. I bet even if we shot a hundred arrows at her, every one would miss.” The colt did a little dance in place. “Do you know what this means? This is bigger than Kira. This could be the biggest thing, like, ever!”
When the older pony spoke again, it was with a growl. “That was a very irresponsible thing you just did. You have no idea what we might be dealing with. If you’d been wrong, she would have died, and all this would be for nothing.”
“Hey, at least I get things done,” the colt argued. "I don’t have to rely on cowards that run away at the first sign of danger."
"Number four did not run away!" the older voice snapped. "His only direction was to find ponies in the forest after dark and take them somewhere safe. Once enough ponies entered the region, he determined that that area was safe. He has done nothing wrong."
"Except lose its arm in the process. And if that's what your creature thinks safe is, maybe you need to put a tighter leash on it. What if it had brought those ponies here?"
The older stallion chuckled. "Oh, there's no chance of that. After meeting you, I doubt any of my children think of this place as safe."
The two ponies fell silent. Sunny Days whimpered, which seemed to draw their attention back to her. "What of her?" the older one asked. "Immortal or not, she won’t last long here, no thanks to you."
"Not my fault. You know I can’t just come here whenever I want." The younger one turned away, and the larger shape followed. "Don’t feed her. But give her some water. I want her to be able to talk. And see if you can do something about her legs."
There were more hoofsteps, this time retreating, and the walls began to grind back into place. The flap of a cloak sent a cloud of dust wafting up to Sunny’s face, causing her to cough. With that, the last illusion of the dream collapsed, and the filly’s eyes snapped open. That was real. That was real. That was real. Through the blinding light - which she now realized was just a simple torch - and the dust from the closing door she saw two figures, one tall and cloaked, the other a unicorn smaller than she was.
“I’m still not convinced that you’ve thought this through,” the cloaked one said.
“Hey, Dollmaker?” the unicorn replied just before the door closed. “Lighten up, will ya?”
With an earthy thud, the wall sealed itself again. Darkness and silence fell on the trembling Sunny Days once more. Then, despite her weary throat, she began to scream.
It took longer than usual to find Derpy Hooves. When she wasn’t on her mail route or at her mysterious second job she could generally be found at her sorting desk, bright-eyed and always ready with a smile. But on this day, Boxy Brown had to search through the entire post office to find her, wearily carrying an overstuffed sack of letters on his back. It was a large weight even for the bulky pegasus, so he was puffing and panting by the time he located Derpy huddled in the back corner of the mail room. “Hey, kid,” he grunted, sliding the overburdened sack off his back. “You okay?”
With some haste the grey pony wiped her eyes and stood up to face her boss. “I’m okay,” she mumbled.
Boxy Brown smiled. He didn’t smile often, but he made it no secret that he had a soft spot for the young mother. Some of her coworkers speculated - unfairly - that this was the only reason she’d retained her position for so long. “I’ve got a job for you,” the postmaster continued, deliberately avoiding looking at the mare’s trembling lips. “If you’re up to it.”
“I’m okay,” Derpy repeated. One of her eyes landed on the sack. “Is that it?”
“That’s right.” Boxy gave a sharp tug at the rope at the top of the bag. Letters of all colours and sizes cascaded out, each marked with a stamp and a single name but no address. “Biggest, most disorganized pile we’ve ever had at once. One for everypony in Ponyville, looks like, plus a bunch I ain’t even heard of. Since you know everyone and I can’t exactly send ‘em back, I figured you’d be the perfect mare for the job.” Derpy’s eyes crossed as she tried to puzzle this out. “Oh, that reminds me.” Her boss rummaged through the top of the sack for a moment before producing a clean grey envelope. He spoke with practiced ease around the paper between his teeth. “When the bag came in, this was right on top of the pile. It’s for you.”
Derpy blinked. “For... me?” She took a deep breath as the meaning of this sunk in. Even after all her years in the postal service, no matter how nice she acted or how many friends she tried to make, not once had anypony ever written Derpy a letter. "Thank you," she breathed, her tears forgotten.
Boxy Brown looked down. “Weren’t nothing,” he mumbled. With trembling lips Derpy leaned forwards, and their noses brushed as she took the letter from him. The large pony blushed, but turned away before she could notice. “Have fun, kid,” he said. The grey pegasus nodded absently. Without another word, Boxy trotted away.
Still trembling, Derpy chewed open the envelope and pulled out the letter within. She read it carefully, tracing line after line with her hoof so as not to miss a single word. By the time she was finished she was crying again, but she had a smile on her face and made no attempt to hide her tears.
If you’re reading this, that means I’m not around any more. I guess that’s kind of sad, huh? But I know you’re not the kind of mare who lets one bad thing rain on her parade. Life’s a party, and a party is still a party even if one of the guests has to go home.
I put your letter at the bottom of the bag, but I know Boxy Brown will find it for you first, because he has just the sweetest little crush on you. Don’t worry, I told him off in my letter to him. You’re a married mare, after all! Well, close enough. Somewhere in this sack there’s a letter for Written Script, too. I thought you’d like to deliver that to him yourself. Maybe you can take little Dinky with you? It’ll be like a great big family reunion! Will she be able to ride on your back the whole way? I know she loves that, but she’s gotten so big lately. She’s growing up so fast! It feels like only yesterday that she was the teeniest, tiniest, cutest little unicorn in all of Ponyville! Now she’s just the cutest little unicorn in all of Ponyville. She has so much to look forward to! And so do you!
I wish I could be there to see how wonderful your life’s going to be from now on. I just know that one day you’ll get married for real, and Dinky’s going to grow up into a big, wonderful mare just like her mommy. You’re a really clever pony, Ditzy, and everything is going to turn out wonderful for you. I promise.
Oh, and I attached the super-secret muffin recipe you always wanted. You can put anything you want into it. Yes, even oatmeal.
Your bestest friend forever,
Next episode: Gummy!
(Tips, suggestions, criticism? Leave a comment or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.)